Recently, EXO members Baekhyun, Xiumin, and Chen shocked fans after they filed to terminate their contracts with SM Entertainment (referred to as SM hereafter).
Though the company stated that this resulted from “outside forces” trying to poach the artists, according to the artists’ lawyers, the reason behind this lawsuit was contractual and wage-related disputes.
As shocking as the news is, it is not the first time SM has gotten into contractual disputes with its artists. Here’s a look back at all the others who went into legal battles over their contracts with the label:
1. JYJ (TVXQ)
In July 2009, three out o the five original SM boy group TVXQ members, Kim Jaejoong, Park Yoochun, and Kim Junsu, applied to the Seoul Central District Court to investigate if their contracts with the label were legally valid. The artists felt that the thirteen-year period of their contracts was excessive, and the earnings were not fairly distributed among the members. Moreover, in case of contract destruction, they would owe their employer three times the total investment amount and two times the ordinary profit during the remaining contract period.
This lawsuit became a huge issue in Korea, resulting in SM’s KOSPI stock prices dropping. The court ruled in favor of the three members, but SM responded with a press conference where they stated that it was a fraudulent lawsuit. The label also filed an injunction but was dismissed by the Seoul Central District Court in 2011. In November 2012, SM and JYJ reached a mutual agreement during a voluntary arbitration at the Seoul Central District Court to terminate all contracts between the two parties and not interfere with each other’s activities in the future, concluding the lawsuit.
2. Han Geng
Only five months after the three ex-members of TVXQ filed their lawsuit against SM, Han Geng, the sole Chinese member of Super Junior, followed suit. His reasons were similar, including unfair wage distribution and a thirteen-year-long biased contract that he was not allowed to revise or terminate. Sun Le, a friend of Han who later became his manager, testified in the Korean courts that SM had discriminated against the artist both financially and in terms of management.
Almost two years after filing this lawsuit, in September 2011, SM and Han’s lawyers released a joint statement confirming that the two parties had amicably reached a settlement, closing the case. Han Geng submitted a ‘Notice of Withdrawal of Appeal,’ and he departed from Super Junior.
3. Kris Wu
In May 2014, Kris Wu, the former Chinese-Canadian member of EXO, filed for contract termination with SM. He publicly stated that the company’s mistreatment was the primary reason why he wanted to leave. Kris told the media, “The company has treated me like a machine part or as an object of control rather than presenting a vision as an entertainer.” He left EXO the same month the lawsuit was made public, but his contract with SM remained in effect until 2022. However, he could pursue a career outside Korea and Japan through other labels and agencies.
4. Jessica Jung
On September 29, 2014, Jessica Jung, then a member of Girls’ Generation, posted on Weibo that she had been forced to leave the group “for no justifiable reason.” The very next day, she released a statement explaining the situation. Jessica claimed that in August 2014, her fellow group members and the label were on board with the launch of her fashion line Blanc and Eclare. But by September, they all had changed their stance. Jessica said she was given two choices: shutting down the business or leaving the group.
On the other hand, SM claimed that Jung had told the company that she would be leaving the group after one more album. However, before the two parties could settle on an agreement, she had established her independent business, causing issues in the group’s schedules. So, the management had decided to promote Girls’ Generation as an eight-member group instead of nine, while they still wanted to handle Jessica’s solo schedules. But before they could make official announcements, Jessica had posted “her own perspective” of the issue.
Jessica and SM finally reached an agreement in August 2015, and her contract with the company was terminated.
Luhan was another Chinese member of EXO who followed Kris Wu’s steps and filed to dissolve his contract with SM in October 2014. The singer claimed that he faced discrimination from the label as they favored the Korean subunit EXO-K more than the Chinese subunit EXO-M. However, unlike Kris, who left the group almost immediately after his lawsuit, Luhan officially departed from EXO nearly two years later, in July 2016. Much like Kris, his contract with SM remained in effect till 2022, but he could promote in other countries besides Korea and Japan through different labels and agencies.
6. No Min Woo
SM Entertainment used to manage an EDM trio named TRAX that initially consisted of members Jay, Jungmo, Rose, and Jungwoo. Rose, aka No Min Woo, was the group’s drummer, and he debuted with TRAX in 2004. However, he decided to leave the band only two years into his career. Fast forward to 2015, No Min Woo filed a lawsuit against SM for making him sign an unlawful seventeen-year contract. He also claimed that the company had tried to sabotage his career after he left TRAX and demanded ₩100 million KRW (about $76,200 USD) in damages. In July 2016, he lost his lawsuit against SM on the grounds of insufficient evidence, but the court also ruled out the contract between the two parties as invalid.
7. Tao (Huang Zitao)
In August 2015, singer Tao filed a lawsuit against SM to nullify his contract, becoming the third Chinese member of EXO to do so. His lawsuit was based on the claims of unfair contract duration, discrimination by the company, and unfair compensation. But in January 2016, SM won the case against Tao for failing to repay SM the advanced payment he had received from the company within the promised timeline.
Tao’s legal battles with SM kept stretching for years. He won a lawsuit in China against SM in 2016, but his appeal to dissolve his contract with the company was rejected in Seoul in 2017. He won his second case against SM in Chinese courts in 2018. Like Kris and Luhan, his contract with SM also continued till 2022, but he was no longer an EXO member and was free to return to China, where he set up his own company Z.TAO Studio.